15 Best Washington Places for Stormy Weather
In the fall and winter months, storms slam up and down the coast, bringing with them powerful winds, intense downpours and huge waves. For many, it is a time to retreat indoors. For some, an incoming system is an opportunity to experience the blustery wonderland found on stormy days around the region firsthand.
SAFETY FIRST: To find when a storm is barreling down on the state, head to the National Weather Service’s Watch, Warning & Advisory page. When storm watching, avoid approaching driftwood and stay away from the breaking waves. If you’re on the beach, watch out for sneaker waves. Always adhere to warnings and closures and be aware of the potential for mudslides, downed trees and road closures.
Storm Watching Along Washington Pacific Coast
Nowhere in Washington is as windy, wet and wild as the Pacific Coast. For the full force of these powerful storms, head west until you hit the Pacific Ocean. Storms here are historically huge. In 1911, a huge storm rolled in right at the town of Moclips destroying the resorts built along the shoreline and all but ending the town’s hopes to be a resort destination.
A decade later on the Olympic Peninsula, a windstorm dubbed “The Olympic Blowdown” raced through the region, with hurricane-force winds toppling trees and smokestacks. In 2007, the Great Coastal Gale slammed the coast, bringing with it gusts of 80 mph and stronger. Although storms like these are the standouts, powerful winds and huge waves come every year.
On the north side of the Quillayute River, west of the town of Forks, Olympic National Park’s Rialto Beach is also a good spot to catch big waves, strong winds and heavy downpours. Best seen as a storm is approaching, as the areas can be dangerous at the height of a storm, the storm surge slamming against the sea stacks is incredible.
Right off of Highway 101, the beaches at Kalaloch are frequently named the best spots to storm-watch in the Northwest. Highlighted by the bluff views at the Kalaloch Lodge and Ruby Beach, witnessing the storm surge reverse the flow of the creek in each area while experiencing the wind and rain is truly stunning.
Located on the North Beach of Grays Harbor, Pacific Beach State Park is a fantastic place to spend a rainy, windy day. As the waves slam into the shore, you can watch the weather event safely from the day-use parking area or step outside to feel the power of the storm.
Farther south, the coastal town of Ocean Shores has two great spots to watch storms. The North Jetty is a fun spot, because it allows you to witness the storm firsthand from your car. From the small parking area, waves crash on top of the nearby jetty as the car rocks from the wind. Those hoping to get out in the elements can do so at Damon Point. Be aware that during storm surge at high tide, the normally sandy spit often gets cut off and becomes a temporary island.
Across Grays Harbor, the fishing town of Westport is another fantastic spot to safely watch the waves while experiencing the wind and rain. The Port of Grays Harbor Observation Tower is a multi-level tower that is open to the public, giving a bird’s-eye view of the wild weather slamming into the seawall. Nearby Grayland Beach State Park will give you a chance to walk to the beach, if the desire arises.
Long Beach Peninsula
As the longest beach in Washington state, numerous access spots dot the 28-mile shoreline, allowing storm watchers entrance to the dunes and sands of Long Beach. While the beach is normally a fun spot to drive on, avoid doing so during storms, because the power of the Pacific brings crashing waves near the dunes and tosses driftwood with ease.
Cape Disappointment State Park
On the southern tip of Washington, find one of the state’s most photogenic spots on a stormy day. Cape Disappointment’s Waikiki Beach is a can’t-miss location to see the huge waves of the storm slam against a towering cliff. The area may be closed off during stronger storms, but the views from the upper bluff are also impressive and much safer.
Straight up the Columbia River, a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, storms slam right into Chinook Point. Located off Highway 101, this storm-watching destination experiences fierce winds, storm surges and a seemingly endless onslaught of precipitation.
Storm Watching at Strait of Juan de Fuca
On the strait, the waves are smaller, the winds are typically lower, and the rain is partially blocked by the Olympic Mountains. Because of these unique aspects, storm watching here is a little calmer and accessible to all. While storms are fewer than on the coast, they can be destructive. In 1979, winds of 80 mph with gusts up to 120 mph slammed into the Hood Canal Bridge, sinking the western side of the bridge. Any spot along the water is good on a stormy day, but four locations perfectly capture the gorgeousness of a stormy day in the region.
Salt Creek Recreation Area
West of Port Angeles, the Salt Creek Recreation area is a lesser-known storm-watching spot. The strongest storm elements will typically miss this spot because it is located away from the powerful Pacific, but the storm surge still will have heavy winds and decent waves slamming against the area’s iconic island.
Ediz Hook and Dungeness Spit
A calmer spot to enjoy the wind and see the storm clouds racing overhead is Ediz Hook in Port Angeles. The majority of this 3-mile-long sand spit is drivable, letting you storm-watch as you look back toward the Olympic Mountains and the town of Port Angeles. Near Sequim, the Dungeness Recreation Area is a more rugged option, granting walking access to the beach to get a little closer to the action.
Fort Worden State Park at Port Townsend
Once a fort to protect the Puget Sound shipping lanes, Port Townsend‘s Fort Worden is now a great place to enjoy windy and wet days. The park has more than 2 miles of shoreline, as well as numerous bunkers to explore or stand on top of, granting elevated views of the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea.
Storm Watching by Salish Sea
Strong storms are common all around Western Washington. In 1962, the Columbus Day Storm had wind gusts hovering around 100 mph around the state, knocking down 11.2 billion board feet of timber in Washington and Oregon. In 2006, the Hanukkah Eve Storm had wind gusts over 80 mph at Padilla Bay and 113 mph at Chinook Pass, killing 14 people, with a state of emergency declared for 17 counties around Western Washington. To ride out the smaller storms that impact Western Washington, consider heading to one of these five Salish Sea locations.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass is a classic summer destination that also can be quite memorable during storms. The park offers thousands of feet of saltwater shoreline to stand on and numerous viewpoints. Consider a walk across the bridge to feel the power of the storm, but hold onto your hat!
Fort Casey and Fort Ebey State Park on Whidbey Island
The western side of Whidbey Island has two spots that are fun for windy days and wave watching. Fort Ebey State Park has grassy fields above the bluffs, giving visitors a chance to feel the wind and the rain in their face. Fort Casey offers similar experiences, with an added bonus of exploring the old barracks and taking in the storm from the top of them.
Sunset Beach on Lummi Island
Overlooking Rosario Strait to the west, Sunset Beach is a good spot to see the waves of the Salish Sea and feel the power of wind gusts. Highlighted by the ferry ride to and from the island, Sunset Beach can be a more laid-back storm-watching spot.
Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island
If you find yourself on San Juan Island during an approaching storm, Lime Kiln State Park will get you up close and personal with the wind, rain and waves. You may want to get out of the car and explore, as the best viewpoints, the whale-watching site and the lighthouse, can be reached only on foot. San Juan Island National Historic Park also is a great option.
–Written by Douglas Scott, last updated in October 2022.
–Top image of a rainbow over San Juan Islands is by Chinaface/Getty Images